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Fixies: Fad or Forever


Emily Squadra is an English major at Boston University. She contacted me about an article for her Rhetoric class in which she wanted to analyze the fixed-gear culture. Hot off the presses: “Fixies: Fad or Forever”

If you drive a car in any urban area, you have to be constantly on the look out for the crazy biker, the one that zooms in and out of traffic seemingly invincibly. More often than not, these bikers are riding fixed-gear bicycles, or “fixies” for short, a type of bicycle that has blown up primarily in the college scene. Even though this craze is not very apparent to the untrained eye, once you are able to recognize a fixie, you begin to notice them everywhere. Essentially, a fixed gear bike is a bike that has been stripped down to the bare necessities. The primary riders of fixies have been classified as “hipsters,” a subculture that is described by urbandictionary.com as people who are primarily in their 20’s or 30’s and “reject the culturally-ignorant attitudes of mainstream consumers, and are often seen wearing vintage and thrift store inspired fashions, tight-fitting jeans, old-school sneakers, and sometimes thick rimmed glasses.” The question that this new craze begs to have answered is will this just be another college fad? College students are notorious for picking up trends just as fast as they drop them, and fixies may be no different.
To get a small taste of fixie culture, I went to Superb Bicycle on 842 Beacon Street and entered a small bike shop. Out of place chandeliers hung from the low ceiling and brightly colored wheels hung on the walls in front of purple and aquamarine Victorian wallpaper. As I entered the store, Jason Hollingsworth, the brand manager and buyer, greeted me. He had a slender built and was dressed in tight grey jeans, a plaid shirt and oversized glasses with thick plastic frames. It was obvious that Jason knew his way around the fixie culture and my job was to access that information without seeming like a complete outsider. He explained to me that fixes have been steadily on the rise for the past five years or so and he predicted that they will not die out in the near future. Unlike other die-hard fixie fans, Jason doesn’t mind more and more people riding fixed-gears, which makes sense since his livelihood is determined by their sale. This brief introduction to fixie culture only scratched the surface and there was much more to be understood.
The fixed-gear bicycle is the epitome of simplicity. It only includes what is “absolutely necessary,” and everything else is stripped off. There is only one gear being used and the pedal is attached to this gear, which is what makes it a “fixed-gear.” This connection forces the rider to pedal constantly; if the bike is moving, the rider’s legs must be moving as well. For some inexperienced riders this can be alarming and has been compared to “an obnoxious drill-sergeant on your hells, [that] after some getting used to…becomes more like having a good-natures coach that you know is ultimately on your side.”

Another thing that some fixie riders discard on their bikes are the brakes, making for an inevitably more dangerous experience. The only way to stop with a brakeless fixie is by pedaling backward, using leg muscles that get stronger over time. When other more experienced riders see these new riders without breaks, it not only makes them nervous but also makes them angry because these beginner riders can give their sport a bad reputation. Stevil Kinevil (his pseudonym), an older fixie rider, calls out some of these less skilled riders by saying “It looks less cool, however, when one of these lemmings comes screaming down the Haight Street hill unable to keep up with the speed of the pedals and wrecks in the middle of Divisadero.” Kinevil speaks for a large crowd of more experienced bikers that seem to look down on the riders that are new to the sport. Although brakeless bikes may be for “the pure and brave,” there is far more risk not only for the rider, but also for other pedestrians and bikers.
Despite the many altercations that fixed-gears have undergone, many claim they are the perfect urban vehicles. The constant pedaling and lack of breaks force the rider to become stronger and more attentive. Since fixie riders must pedal backwards to break, they gradually build up stronger leg muscles enabling them to be faster and more efficient. Coasting is not possible on a fixed-gear so going down a hill can turn into a workout because the rider must be able to control the speed of the bike by backpedaling while going downhill. Because of this, the rider has to anticipate every move far in advance since timing is essential. Some people compare this constant concentration to “a game of chess, anticipating the movement of the traffic as a chess player would anticipate the moves of his opponent, reacting accordingly.” These changes are also the reason why some people switch over to riding fixies instead of mountain bikes or single-speed bikes. Once accustomed to the differences, fixed-gear bikes simply make for a stronger, more aware and overall better rider.

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